Lord David Puttnam is the UK’s trade envoy to Cambodia. Last month, the busy diplomat headed a trade commission the British government had sent to Cambodia.
To a wider audience, the multitalented Briton is probably best known as a successful film producer. As producer of The Killing Fields he won an Oscar in the 1980s and made the world open their eyes to the hell on earth that Pol Pot’s Democratic regime unleashed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
Considering Puttnam’s tight schedule, the Post was lucky to have the opportunity to speak with him in depth about his mission in Cambodia, key to which is maintaining and further stimulating the already good trade relationships between the United Kingdom and Cambodia.
Puttnam said that approach is supported by William Longhurst, the UK’s ambassador to Cambodia, who was “doing a wonderful job”.
Together, the trade envoy and ambassador’s efforts focus heavily on the development of the market economy, industry and education system in Cambodia.
“My priority is helping to create the conditions here [in Cambodia], which will give UK’s businesses, people and investors more confidence to come here. Essentially, this is my job,” he said.
Though Puttnam is striving to make a positive impact on several sectors of the economy, the human element remains his overriding focus.
“The number one thing the British would like to contribute to is the development of human capital, the development of human capacity and education skills,” he said.
With a proud history of education that dates back centuries, the UK has much to contribute to the Cambodian education system, including economically.
“I think the UK’s universities could be doing more in Cambodia,” the envoy said. “There’s a lot of money available in the education sector, but investors are looking for security and long-term investments.”
On the other hand, Puttam also expressed enthusiasm for the continuing development of the Cambodian education system, which just this year has taken highly publicised steps in combatting widespread cheating on national exams:
“Cambodia has a huge asset with the current Minister of Education [Hang Choun Naron]. He is really, really great. From my view, you are all very lucky, because among the education ministers from around the world, Cambodia has a very rare jewel.
“What I like about him is that he is not looking for easy answers and knows there may be a long road ahead,” Puttnam added.
However long it may take, it is crucial that the development of education in Cambodia be pushed forward, the envoy explained, because it is tied intrinsically with the development of the nation’s economy.
“Business people who come to Cambodia need to work with capable Cambodian staff. They want to employ Cambodian managers and Cambodian executives.”
Capable Cambodian professionals in British companies can then fully concentrate on improving key sectors to the Cambodian economy such as agriculture – a sector in which the trade envoy sees a lot of potential for growht.
“Particularly in Europe, many people are concerned about the source of their food and are prepared to pay more money for good and healthy food free of chemicals.”
The Kingdom’s agriculture sector has been at the centre of discussion in meetings between Puttnam’s delegation and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
According to Puttman, both sides have been “focusing on agriculture projects, the quality of infrastructure, and matching economic development with infrastructure development.”
In the meetings, the diplomat also stressed that failing to develop infrastructure and the economy together could lead to a crisis.
Avoiding those types of problems is especially important for long-term investors, Puttman said.
“UK businessmen would like to invest here,” he said. “[But] They’re not coming for a year or two. They’re coming for the long-term and therefore, they’re looking for a sense of security, a sense of continuity... These things are very important”.